Have they lost their collective minds? I’m talking about Austin city council members who recently announced they are considering a plan from Columbus, Ohio’s professional soccer team, Crew SC or Crew Soccer Club, to move to Austin and build a stadium on downtown lakeside parkland – Butler Shores Metropolitan Park. This kick-to-the-groin plan includes eliminating the three historic Little League ball fields and fails to provide for parking, among other things that don’t make sense for this council to endorse.
Aside from the destruction and giveaway of city parkland, what confounds me the most is how this idea materialized. Specifically, in my six decades of living in this town, I’ve never heard anyone say, “What Austin needs is a professional soccer team.” Anyone who has lived here 30 minutes knows that Austin is a football town that bleeds arterial orange for the Longhorn football team and bursts a capillary or two over Longhorn baseball and basketball. If soccer were a money-making sport worth an investment, UT would have bulldozed the Engineering building to build a stadium for a university team. Since they haven’t done so yet, I rest my case.
Mind you, I have nothing against soccer. It’s a fine game that my children played when they were young, learning teamwork and physical coordination skills. Soccer also provides an opportunity for the young and energetic to run up and down a field almost non-stop for sixty minutes without parents having to worrying too much about concussions or lost teeth from errant bats.
In fact, if this company wanted to put the stadium over by the Travis County Exposition Center, or almost anywhere that doesn’t involve gifts of prime city parkland in a very congested area, I’d be applauding the deal. It seems, however, that the team’s owner, Precourt Sports Ventures, has its heart set on a downtown location so that television viewers “would know exactly what city the game is being played [in].” Let me just say, Precourt, I don’t think anyone watching the drama on the soccer field cares a flying flip about which city’s air those players are breathing. If using the city as a prop is truly a necessary element, I would urge them to watch episodes of Austin City Limits where the skyline was just a big mural on the wall. Maybe something like that could be rigged up. And by the way – Austin doesn’t need more advertising! We’re full.
Another disturbing issue is judgment. If I were looking for a business partner, Mr. Mayor and council, I’d wonder about the reasoning capacity of a company deciding that Butler Park, off Toomey Road, just a block north of Barton Springs Drive and within a stone’s throw of Zilker Park, is a great location. To access such a stadium, fans would have to hope that neither Zilker Park, Auditorium Shores, the Long Center, or Palmer Auditorium are having big events. Not only would attendees have to contend with congested streets both coming and going, but competition for parking in that area is stiff, spilling into the adjacent neighborhoods that already have to endure ACL for two weekends a year and the Trail of Lights during the Christmas holidays. Precourt wants to make their ordeal more permanent.
But wait, you counter, Precourt doesn’t think parking is necessary for soccer fans. They will use mass transit. Isn’t that what they meant when they said, “Fans can access the stadium just like they travel to their jobs in downtown Austin?” (I hope you aren’t choking on a swallow of coffee like I was when I read this!)
Have these people ever been to Austin?!!! Are they confusing us, as many often do, with Portland? Let me save you the research, Precourt, Austin workers travel to their downtown jobs by CARS!! And I don’t mean Priuses and Fiats – I’m talking about sports utility vehicles and pick-up trucks! Our bus system needs several more decades to become a viable mode of transportation and our train “system” sporadically drops people off from the northern hinterlands to east Austin. Simply put, there is no mass transit. And despite the miles of bicycle lanes you may have seen, not that many drivers have been convinced to ditch the cars and start pedaling.
So, let’s get serious. Where will the 20,000 (planned capacity of stadium) soccer fans park besides the aforementioned neighborhoods? Maybe half of them will use some sort of park-and-ride system the soccer team arranges, but I suspect that thousands more may try using the garage at the Long Center/Palmer Auditorium. Others may look for spots at Shady Grove and the other establishments along restaurant row on Barton Springs. Will soccer fans have a few drinks or a meal at one of them and then, just casually walk by their cars to the stadium, figuring that lunch was enough to buy them a place all day? Okay with you, Shady G?
And then there’s the Zachary Scott theater complex adjacent to the proposed stadium that has weekend matinees and evening performances. Will they need to hire people to police their lots? Will screams of “GOAL!!!!!!!” by 20,000 fans rock the walls and invade the theater performances? Precourt says it intends to lower the stadium a few feet into the ground as a sound containment feature, but will it be enough? I’d say the jury is out on that one.
And let’s not forget the razing of the three baseball fields used by South Austin Little League that date back to 1951? These fields accommodate about 250 families and no one wants to move them unless a new site with upgraded facilities can be found nearby the one on Toomey. Maybe the Save Muny folks can lend some expertise with historic designations and save these fields.
As for good faith dealings with this team, Precourt seems to be holding the city of Columbus hostage, threatening to move to Austin unless Columbus can come up with a downtown locale for a new stadium. In response, an Ohio legislator has filed suit against the team alleging that a 1996 Ohio law requires the owner of a professional sports team that uses tax-supported facilities or gets public financial assistance to give six months advance notice of an intent to move and provide the city or local individuals the opportunity to purchase the team. The soccer team seems to be covered by this law by virtue of its below-market rate to lease state land for parking, having a stadium sitting on tax-exempt land, and benefiting from a State appropriation of $5 million for parking upgrades. Representative Mike Duffey says, “This is our team, our town. We’re not going to go out without a fight!”
Does Austin really want to jump into the middle of this love affair/law suit for a sport we don’t really care much about? Are we just being played to get leverage for the stadium the team really wants in Columbus? And don’t forget, if they hold one city hostage, nothing prevents them from doing the same thing to us. Professional teams tend to do that once they get a foot in the door, I’ve heard.
So, here’s my bottom line: we don’t need no stinkin’ soccer team, especially one owned by people who don’t have a clue about Austin, its culture, its infrastructure and have already shown their stripes in another city. Precourt doesn’t seem to understand that we love our parks and other recreational facilities, demonstrated by voters’ approval of two bond issues for our parks in November.
So, let’s tell Mayor Adler and the City Council that this is not the right team to welcome to Austin especially if they want to get their mitts (and cleats) on our parkland. Precourt has betrayed the people of Columbus. Let’s hope our City Council doesn’t betray us . . . for a soccer team, of all things!
And in case anyone asks what Austin really wants? Tell them we could really use a world-class art museum. Maybe we could strike a deal with Fort Worth to send us one of theirs, you think?